Breaking_Dawn (31. TALENTED)

"What is the werewolves' part in this?" Tanya asked then, eyeing Jacob.

Jacob spoke before Edward could answer. "If the Volturi won't stop to listen about Nessie, I mean Renesmee," he corrected himself, remembering that Tanya would not understand his stupid nickname, "we will stop them."

"Very brave, child, but that would be impossible for more experienced fighters than you are."

"You don't know what we can do."

Tanya shrugged. "It is your own life, certainly, to spend as you choose."

Jacob's eyes flickered to Renesmee – still in Carmen's arms with Kate hovering over them – and it was easy to read the longing in them.

"She is special, that little one," Tanya mused. "Hard to resist."

"A very talented family," Eleazar murmured as he paced. His tempo was increasing; he flashed from the door to Carmen and back again every second. "A mind reader for a father, a shield for a mother, and then whatever magic this extraordinary child has bewitched us with. I wonder if there is a name for what she does, or if it is the norm for a vampire hybrid. As if such a thing could ever be considered normal! A vampire hybrid, indeed!"

"Excuse me," Edward said in a stunned voice. He reached out and caught Eleazar's shoulder as he was about to turn again for the door. "What did you just call my wife?"

Eleazar looked at Edward curiously, his manic pacing forgotten for the moment. "A shield, I think. She's blocking me now, so I can't be sure."

I stared at Eleazar, my brows furrowing in confusion. Shield? What did he mean about my blocking him? I was standing right here beside him, not defensive in any way.

"A shield?" Edward repeated, bewildered.

"Come now, Edward! If I can't get a read on her, I doubt you can, either. Can you hear her thoughts right now?"

Eleazar asked.

"No," Edward murmured. "But I've never been able to do that. Even when she was human."

"Never?" Eleazar blinked. "Interesting. That would indicate a rather powerful latent talent, if it was manifesting so clearly even before the transformation. I can't feel a way through her shield to get a sense of it at all. Yet she must be raw still – she's only a few months old." The look he gave Edward now was almost exasperated. "And apparently completely unaware of what she's doing. Totally unconscious. Ironic. Aro sent me all over the world searching for such anomalies, and you simply stumble across it by accident and don't even realize what you have." Eleazar shook his head in disbelief.

I frowned. "What are you talking about? How can I be a shield? What does that even mean?" All I could picture in my head was a ridiculous medieval suit of armor.

Eleazar leaned his head to one side as he examined me. "I suppose we were overly formal about it in the guard. In truth, categorizing talents is a subjective, haphazard business; every talent is unique, never exactly the same thing twice. But you, Bella, are fairly easy to classify. Talents that are purely defensive, that protect some aspect of the bearer, are always called shields. Have you ever tested your abilities? Blocked anyone besides me and your mate?"

It took me few seconds, despite how quickly my new brain worked, to organize my answer.

"It only works with certain things," I told him. "My head is sort of… private. But it doesn't stop Jasper from being able to mess with my mood or Alice from seeing my future."

"Purely a mental defense." Eleazar nodded to himself. "Limited, but strong."

"Aro couldn't hear her," Edward interjected. "Though she was human when they met."

Eleazar's eyes widened.

"Jane tried to hurt me, but she couldn't," I said. "Edward thinks Demetri can't find me, and that Alec can't bother me, either. Is that good?"

Eleazar, still gaping, nodded. "Quite."

"A shield!" Edward said, deep satisfaction saturating his tone. "I never thought of it that way. The only one I've ever met before was Renata, and what she did was so different."

Eleazar had recovered slightly. "Yes, no talent ever manifests in precisely the same way, because no one ever thinks in exactly the same way."

"Who's Renata? What does she do?" I asked. Renesmee was interested, too, leaning away from Carmen so that she could see around Kate.

"Renata is Aro's personal bodyguard," Eleazar told me. "A very practical kind of shield, and a very strong one."

I vaguely remembered a small crowd of vampires hovering close to Aro in his macabre tower, some male, some female. I couldn't remember the women's faces in the uncomfortable, terrifying memory. One must have been Renata.

"I wonder…," Eleazar mused. "You see, Renata is a powerful shield against a physical attack. If someone approaches her – or Aro, as she is always close beside him in a hostile situation – they find themselves… diverted.

There's a force around her that repels, though it's almost unnoticeable. You simply find yourself going a different direction than you planned, with a confused memory as to why you wanted to go that other way in the first place. She can project her shield several meters out from herself. She also protects Caius and Marcus, too, when they have a need, but Aro is her priority.

"What she does isn't actually physical, though. Like the vast majority of our gifts, it takes place inside the mind. If she tried to keep you back, I wonder who would win?" He shook his head. "I've never heard of Aro's or Jane's gifts being thwarted."

"Momma, you're special," Renesmee told me without any surprise, like she was commenting on the color of my clothes.

I felt disoriented. Didn't I already know my gift? I had my super-self-control that had allowed me to skip right over the horrifying newborn year. Vampires only had one extra ability at most, right?

Or had Edward been correct in the beginning? Before Carlisle had suggested that my self-control could be something beyond the natural, Edward had thought my restraint was just a product of good preparation – focus and attitude,he'd declared.

Which one had been right? Was there more I could do? A name and a category for what I was?

"Can you project?" Kate asked interestedly.

"Project?" I asked.

"Push it out from yourself," Kate explained. "Shield someone besides yourself."

"I don't know. I've never tried. I didn't know I should do that."

"Oh, you might not be able to," Kate said quickly. "Heavens knows I've been working on it for centuries and the best I can do is run a current over my skin."

I stared at her, mystified.

"Kate's got an offensive skill," Edward said. "Sort of like Jane."

I flinched away from Kate automatically, and she laughed.

"I'm not sadistic about it," she assured me. "It's just something that comes in handy during a fight."

Kate's words were sinking in, beginning to make connections in my mind. Shield someone besides yourself she'd said. As if there were some way for me to include another person in my strange, quirky silent head.

I remembered Edward cringing on the ancient stones of the Volturi castle turret. Though this was a human memory, it was sharper, more painful than most of the others – like it had been branded into the tissues of my brain.

What if I could stop that from happening ever again? What if I could protect him? Protect Renesmee? What if there was even the faintest glimmer of a possibility that I could shield them, too?

"You have to teach me what to do!" I insisted, unthinkingly grabbing Kate's arm. "You have to show me how!"

Kate winced at my grip. "Maybe – if you stop trying to crush my radius."

"Oops! Sorry!"

"You're shielding, all right," Kate said. "That move should have about shocked your arm off. You didn't feel

anything just now?"

"That wasn't really necessary, Kate. She didn't mean any harm," Edward muttered under his breath. Neither of us paid attention to him.

"No, I didn't feel anything. Were you doing your electric current thing?"

"I was. Hmm. I've never met anyone who couldn't feel it, immortal or otherwise."

"You said you project it? On your skin?"

Kate nodded. "It used to be just in my palms. Kind of like Aro."

"Or Renesmee," Edward interjected.

"But after a lot of practice, I can radiate the current all over my body. It's a good defense. Anyone who tries to touch me drops like a human that's been Tasered. It only downs him for a second, but that's long enough."

I was only half-listening to Kate, my thoughts racing around the idea that I might be able to protect my little family if I could just learn fast enough. I wished fervently that I might be good at this projecting thing, too, like I was somehow mysteriously good at all the other aspects of being a vampire. My human life had not prepared me for things that came naturally, and I couldn't make myself trust this aptitude to last.

It felt like I had never wanted anything so badly before this; to be able to protect what I loved.

Because I was so preoccupied, I didn't notice the silent exchange going on between Edward and Eleazar until it became a spoken conversation.

"Can you think of even one exception, though?" Edward asked.

I looked over to make sense of his comment and realized that everyone else was already staring at the two men. They were leaning toward each other intently, Edward's expression tight with suspicion, Eleazar's unhappy and reluctant.

"I don't want to think of them that way," Eleazar said through his teeth. I was surprised at the sudden change in the atmosphere.

"If you're right – ," Eleazar began again.

Edward cut him off. "The thought was yours, not mine."

"If I'm right… I can't even grasp what that would mean. It would change everything about the world we've created. It would change the meaning of my life. What I have been a part of."

"Your intentions were always the best, Eleazar."

"Would that even matter? What have I done? How many lives …"

Tanya put her hand on Eleazar's shoulder in a comforting gesture. "What did we miss, my friend? I want to know so that I can argue with these thoughts. You've never done anything worth castigating yourself this way."

"Oh, haven't I?" Eleazar muttered. Then he shrugged out from under her hand and began his pacing again, faster even than before.

Tanya watched him for half a second and then focused on Edward. "Explain."

Edward nodded, his tense eyes following Eleazar as he spoke. "He was trying to understand why so many of

the Volturi would come to punish us. It's not the way they do things. Certainly, we are the biggest mature coven they've dealt with, but in the past other covens have joined to protect themselves, and they never presented much of a challenge despite their numbers. We are more closely bonded, and that's a factor, but not a huge one.

"He was remembering other times that covens have been punished, for one thing or the other, and a pattern occurred to him. It was a pattern that the rest of the guard would never have noticed, since Eleazar was the one passing the pertinent intelligence privately to Aro. A pattern that only repeated every other century or so."

"What was this pattern?" Carmen asked, watching Eleazar as Edward was.

"Aro does not often personally attend a punishing expedition," Edward said. "But in the past, when Aro wanted something in particular, it was never long before evidence turned up proving that this coven or that coven had committed some unpardonable crime. The ancients would decide to go along to watch the guard administer justice. And then, once the coven was all but destroyed, Aro would grant a pardon to one member whose thoughts, he would claim, were particularly repentant. Always, it would turn out that this vampire had the gift Aro had admired. Always, this person was given a place with the guard. The gifted vampire was won over quickly, always so grateful for the honor. There were no exceptions."

"It must be a heady thing to be chosen," Kate suggested.

"Ha!" Eleazar snarled, still in motion.

"There is one among the guard," Edward said, explaining Eleazar's angry reaction. "Her name is Chelsea. She has influence over the emotional ties between people. She can both loosen and secure these ties. She could make someone feel bonded to the Volturi, to want to belong, to want to please them___"

Eleazar came to an abrupt halt. "We all understood why Chelsea was important. In a fight, if we could separate allegiances between allied covens, we could defeat them that much more easily. If we could distance the innocent members of a coven emotionally from the guilty, justice could be done without unnecessary brutality – the guilty could be punished without interference, and the innocent could be spared. Otherwise, it was impossible to keep the coven from fighting as a whole. So Chelsea would break the ties that bound them together. It seemed a great kindness to me, evidence of Aro's mercy. I did suspect that Chelsea kept our own band more tightly knit, but that, too, was a good thing. It made us more effective. It helped us coexist more easily."

This clarified old memories for me. It had not made sense to me before how the guard obeyed their masters so gladly, with almost lover-like devotion.

"How strong is her gift?" Tanya asked with an edge to her voice. Her gaze quickly touched on each member of her family.

Eleazar shrugged. "I was able to leave with Carmen." And then he shook his head. "But anything weaker than the bond between partners is in danger. In a normal coven, at least. Those are weaker bonds than those in our family, though. Abstaining from human blood makes us more civilized – lets us form true bonds of love. I doubt she could turn our allegiances, Tanya."

Tanya nodded, seeming reassured, while Eleazar continued with his analysis.

"I could only think that the reason Aro had decided to come himself, to bring so many with him, is because his goal is not punishment but acquisition," Eleazar said. "He needs to be there to control the situation. But he needs the entire guard for protection from such a large, gifted coven. On the other hand, that leaves the other ancients unprotected in Volterra. Too risky – someone might try to take advantage. So they all come together. How else could he be sure to preserve the gifts that he wants? He must want them very badly," Eleazar mused.

Edward's voice was low as a breath. "From what I saw of his thoughts last spring, Aro's never wanted anything more than he wants Alice."

I felt my mouth fall open, remembering the nightmarish pictures I had imagined long ago: Edward and Alice in black cloaks with bloodred eyes, their faces cold and remote as they stood close as shadows, Aro's hands on theirs…. Had Alice seen this more recently? Had she seen Chelsea trying to strip away her love for us, to bind her to Aro and Caius and Marcus?

"Is that why Alice left?" I asked, my voice breaking on her name.

Edward put his hand against my cheek. "I think it must be. To keep Aro from gaining the thing he wants most of all. To keep her power out of his hands."

I heard Tanya and Kate murmuring in disturbed voices and remembered that they hadn't known about Alice.

"He wants you, too," I whispered.

Edward shrugged, his face suddenly a little too composed. "Not nearly as much. I can't really give him anything more than he already has. And of course that's dependent on his finding a way to force me to do his will. He knows me, and he knows how unlikely that is." He raised one eyebrow sardonically.

Eleazar frowned at Edward's nonchalance. "He also knows your weaknesses," Eleazar pointed out, and then he looked at me.

"It's nothing we need to discuss now," Edward said quickly.

Eleazar ignored the hint and continued. "He probably wants your mate, too, regardless. He must have been intrigued by a talent that could defy him in its human incarnation."

Edward was uncomfortable with this topic. I didn't like it, either. If Aro wanted me to do something  – anything – all he had to do was threaten Edward and I would comply. And vice versa.

Was death the lesser concern? Was it really capture we should fear?

Edward changed the subject. "I think the Volturi were waiting for this – for some pretext. They couldn't know what form their excuse would come in, but the plan was already in place for when it did come. That's why Alice saw their decision before Irina triggered it. The decision was already made, just waiting for the pretense of a justification."

"If the Volturi are abusing the trust all immortals have placed in them…," Carmen murmured.

"Does it matter?" Eleazar asked. "Who would believe it? And even if others could be convinced that the Volturi are exploiting their power, how would it make any difference? No one can stand against them."

"Though some of us are apparently insane enough to try," Kate muttered.

Edward shook his head. "You're only here to witness, Kate. Whatever Aro's goal, I don't think he's ready to

tarnish the Volturi's reputation for it. If we can take away his argument against us, he'll be forced to leave us in peace."

"Of course," Tanya murmured.

No one looked convinced. For a few long minutes, nobody said anything.

Then Iheard the sound of tires turning off the highway pavement onto the Cullens' dirt drive.

"Oh crap, Charlie," I muttered. "Maybe the Denalis could hang out upstairs until – "

"No," Edward said in a distant voice. His eyes were far away, staring blankly at the door. "It's not your father." His gaze focused on me. "Alice sent Peter and Charlotte, afterall. Time to get ready for the next round."